Petrol bombs thrown at Bangladesh strike protests
Hundreds of protesters in Bangladesh threw petrol bombs at police on Tuesday as opposition parties enforced a nationwide strike demanding elections under a neutral caretaker government.
As a top US official voiced concern about levels of violence in the country, there were reports of clashes in several big cities, including the capital Dhaka.
The worst unrest was seen in the northwestern city of Rajshahi where police fired rubber bullets at demonstrators after coming under attack from youths hurling Molotov cocktails.
“Up to 500 protesters pelted stones and petrol bombs. We fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse them,” deputy commissioner of Rajshahi police Shah Golam Mahmud told reporters.
Schools, businesses and private offices were closed across the country and most roads were empty, with thousands of officers on patrol to try to prevent a repeat of violence on Sunday during a similar strike.
In Dhaka protesters smashed the windows of the car of the food secretary – who was not inside – and also exploded at least four petrol bombs in front of the opposition headquarters, deputy police commissioner Anwar Hossain told reporters.
The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its allies called the latest protest as they stepped up demands for elections to be held under a neutral caretaker government.
The caretaker system, under which a non-partisan administration takes power to oversee national elections, has been scrapped by the incumbent government led by the Awami League party.
On Monday night more than a dozen vehicles were torched or damaged after police arrested the deputy chief of the BNP, Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, on charges of violence during Sunday’s strike.
At least two people were killed and dozens were injured on Sunday after police and Awami party activists clashed with opposition protesters.
Local television stations ran footage of ruling party supporters attacking a young tailor in front of a courthouse. He died as he was rushed to hospital.
The country’s home minister said eight people were arrested in connection with the killing, including several suspects who were expelled from the ruling party’s student wing.
On Tuesday, United States Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake expressed concern at the “deepening cycle of violence” in Bangladesh and urged the main parties to hold dialogue to find a peaceful solution to the election dispute.
“We view with great concern these hartals (strikes), we view with great concern the deepening cycle of violence here in Bangladesh,” said Blake.
Bangladesh, where the the next general election is due in January 2014, has a record of violent politics with rival party supporters often involved in street-fighting.